I really struggle with unforeseen, “out-of-nowhere” conflicts. In any given fight-or-flight scenario, I totally flee. I’d rather run away from the situation and assess it long after the fact than act in the moment. Face it head-on. This includes out-of-nowhere discussions on sexuality — among family, no less.
Some time ago, I attended a family function. Grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and the like. My story had been public for a while, starting with my book of “messy memoirs” that I published in 2013.
Over the years, I’ve communicated with various extended family members about my sexuality, usually over email or Facebook or written letter, and the dialogue has always been supportive and nurturing.
I truly have a phenomenal family.
But I don’t naturally bring up my sexuality in conversations with my family. Or most anyone outside this online community, really. Just because I’m “out” doesn’t mean I’m always going out of my way to talk about sexuality. Outside my closest friendships, I still don’t feel comfortable sharing.
I still feel ashamed of my sexuality. Even after all this time. All these stories, written or otherwise.
For a while now, I’ve sensed that certain family members just aren’t aware of my sexuality, my story.
They’re not on Facebook. They don’t read blogs. They haven’t even read my book yet. They don’t know that their darling little Tom is gay. Or SSA. Or what have you.
At this particular family function, an aunt started talking about gay and transgender people. How we got there, I have no earthly idea. Sitting opposite the table and her diatribes, I felt like I was suddenly thrust into an SNL skit.
I thought these kinds of conversations only existed in nightmarishly comedic fantasy worlds. Not here. Not within my own family.
“How can a teenager possibly know what gender they are?” she said.
“I don’t think anyone is born gay,” she continued. One bold claim after the other. Her tone escalating.
I looked down the whole time. I played with my shirt. Ooh, creases. Creases are cool. Let me bore a hole into my sleeve while my one family member goes on and on about sexuality and gender identity. And then a pause.
And then a comment from another family member who has read my book and knows my story: “What do you think, Tom?”
I’ve never felt more on the spot in all my life. Here I was, presented with the perfect opportunity to tell someone she had no idea what she was talking about. That she had clearly never talked to a gay or transgender person and asked for their story in all her life.
Here I was — here with my story.
“I think . . . it’s complicated,” I said. “Some combination of nature and nurture.”
And that was essentially it. All I could muster on the spot like that. I felt so unprepared. So ill-equipped.
I didn’t even tell her that I myself was gay. Even though everyone else around the table, save her and maybe one or two others, already knew.
I know what I believe. I know so many stories, my own included. And yet I felt utterly unable to explain myself — and my dear brothers — to this person, my own family, without barreling into a tunnel of shame over the whole thing. Wishing I could just be straight and simple like all of them.
Ugh. It was rough. I still have so many regrets from that day.
I felt — still feel — like a failure. Like I failed this YOB community that day. Failed the LGBT+ community. Failed to educate. Failed to represent the love of Christ who welcomed the leper and prostitute.
And yet. I can’t help also feeling better prepared for a future conversation, family or otherwise, should the scenario ever arise.
If I could do it all over again, I’d say something like this to my one family member and anyone else listening:
So, I don’t know if you know this from reading my blogs or books or other writings. But I’m actually gay. I’ve been attracted to guys since first or second grade. I certainly didn’t choose my sexuality. It just happened this way. I don’t think anyone would choose this sexuality if given the alternative to be straight and otherwise ‘normal.’ We do, however, each have a choice deciding what to do with our sexualities, our proclivities, our temptations and desires, good or otherwise. So, even though I’m attracted to the same sex, I feel God calling me not to pursue a same-sex relationship in pursuit of him all the more.
I don’t know if I’ll ever again get that opportunity to say that to her. I have recently thought about emailing her. Saying something. I still feel burdened not saying anything substantial that day.
I don’t know if family functions will ever not be weird should the conversation ever again turn to gay people as innocent little Tom who will surely find the perfect woman one day admits to being totally attracted to dudes.
But even in my flights from conflict, I’m learning better how to fight. Fighting with story, fighting with love. Fighting only to be known as I shed more light on myself as well as my other brothers and sisters also wanting this same known-ness.
Are you ashamed to talk about your sexuality with family or friends? Have you ever confronted a family member about issues of sexuality or gender identity? Do you have a supportive family who knows your story, or do you not?